Fourth Sunday of Lent
Fourth Sunday in Lent series A 2023
This morning I want to go over just a couple of verses.
And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (Joh 9:2 ESV) The disciples want to establish the cause of his disease. They want to discuss who is at fault and who has sinned. In their day and far too many times still today, there were probably four answers they would have given. There is the argument of heredity that the fathers' sins are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generations (see Exod. 20:5). We know this is possible. Blindness and other developmental problems, in some cases, can be the result of the sin of the parent; drug abuse, alcoholism, and such. Then, there was the explanation that the sin of Adam was passed to each member of the human family so that all are subject to death and disease. The Jewish people, at that time, also believed that the baby could sin while in the womb. That is why they asked if the man, himself, had sinned.
Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (Joh 9:3 ESV) Jesus doesn't give them the answer they wanted. He says the important thing is not to probe around in the past and try to find out who is guilty. God has His own wise reasons for permitting sickness, disease, suffering, and trouble. God doesn't always reveal to us why He permits things. God has His way and doesn't propose to tell us all His reasons. He does ask us to walk with Him by faith through the dark times, the undefinable times, of our lives.
We need to understand that our Lord is not saying for one minute that this man was a spiritual guinea pig. Or that he was purposely made blind so God could be glorified. His being born blind was because he was born in a fallen world.
God has created you and me for His glory. He did not create us, so we might try to be somebody here, although we are to do good, which glorifies God. He created us for His glory. If we miss that, we miss the entire purpose of our creation. These trials and sufferings come to us because they bring about the glory of God. This blind man, through the healing of his blindness, will bring about the glory of God. Not only will this blind man see (and think how much he would enjoy seeing all the rest of his life), but also he will see Jesus Christ and come to know Him as his Savior.
Now Jesus reverts to His original statement. "I am the light of the world." The Spiritual night makes all of humankind blind. No one can see. Christ is the spiritual Light of the World; without Him, everyone is blind. But as long as He is in the world, He is the Light of the World. He is still in the world today, my friend. He comes to us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Unless the Son of God, by means of the Holy Spirit, opens our eyes to see spiritual things, we will remain blind as bats.
Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
Jesus sent him to the pool which is called Siloam, and John makes a point of telling us Siloam means "Sent." Jesus sent him. The blind man needed to show his trust in Jesus. Plus, as I researched this passage, I found out that the Jews needed this testimony because in verse 29, they say, "We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." They must see by this healing of the blind man that Jesus is the God–man who is sent from the Father.
May I point out that the method of healing this man is not the most important part of the account. The Person who heals is the important part. It is Christ who opened his eyes. The blind man's part was to receive, trust and obey Jesus. He just needed to go and wash.
I want to stop here and show how the condition of the blind man parallels our condition as sinners before we were saved. The blind man was outside the temple, shut out from God. Remember that Paul says in Ephesians 2:12 that we were strangers from the covenants of promise, that we had no hope; we were without God in the world. That is the condition of everyone before they are saved. Without Jesus, we are without hope. We are shut out!
The man was born blind, physically and spiritually. He was unable to see anything, much less Jesus, his Savior. A story is told of a man who, after hearing a sermon on John 10:9, where Jesus says, "I am the door: by me, if any man enters in, he will be saved." Just did not get what those words meant. When he got home, as he put the key in the lock and pushed open the door of his home, it struck him. He exclaimed, "Oh, I see!" His family laughed and said, "Of course, you see. You were out in the dark and have come into the light." He answered, "Yes, but I now see that Jesus is the door, and faith is the key that turns the lock. I now trust Christ, and I see Him." The man, as we are spiritually blind from birth. We were born in sin. We came into this world as sinners. And when the Light Jesus touched us, we stepped from blindness to seeing the light. Many still see dimly, but as they read and study God's love letters, their vision improves.
The blind man did not appeal to Jesus. He didn't know Jesus. The Jews passed him by on their way to the temple. The disciples wanted to argue about him. It doesn't appear that they intended to show mercy to this him. This is a picture of the human family. Thank goodness Christ feels compassion for us, and Christ alone can help us. This man's illness provides the occasion to manifest "the works of God.
We know that Jesus did not heal everyone he came into contact with, just as he does not heal everyone today, yet their lives are used to give God glory. For instance, Fanny Crosby, who was six weeks old, had an eye infection. Her regular doctor was out of town, and a doctor gave her the wrong treatment. Within a few days, she was totally blind. If that happened to some people, I am afraid they would be very bitter and would probably spend a lifetime feeling sorry for themselves. Fanny was never bitter, and she never felt sorry for herself. She became a prolific hymnist, writing over 800 hymns and gospel songs, with over 200 million copies printed; she is also known for her teaching and rescue mission work.
We know who caused her blindness - but to Fanny, knowing who caused her blindness didn't matter. Nor did it matter to her that she was blind - because she could see in her mind. Christ didn't heal the physical blindness of Fanny Crosby as he healed the sight of the man born blind. But like that man at the end of today's Gospel reading - when he knelt at Jesus' feet and worshipped him, she saw more than we can imagine - she saw more - and felt more blessed - than millions about her with eyes to see. Her life gave God glory.
The next time you see someone afflicted - in body, mind, or spirit -and judge them, remember what Jesus said about the man born blind; his blindness gave God the opportunity to show the glory of God in his life. Amen
Third Sunday in Lent
3-12-23 series A
Third Sunday in Lent
Text: John 4:5-26
Title: Gracious Love
As I was reading the Gospel lesson for this Sunday earlier this week, I was reminded of a newspaper article that I read some time ago. I believe it was in the San Antonio Express and News. If I remember correctly, the article was titled: "In Times of Stress, Just Call on Rover". It went something like this: When it comes to times of stress, the most reassuring companion isn't your sweetheart, husband or wife, it's your dog.
When the reporter asked the research scientist, I do not remember her name, the reason behind that statement she replied, "I think it is because dogs do not evaluate us, they just love us as we are".
They do not evaluate, only love. That must have been the reason I thought of the article when I was reading John’s account of Jesus and the woman at the well. For you see that is the way Jesus is, accepting and loving. He just accepted her as she was, even though she was a Samaritan and in a sense an enemy to his people. He spoke to her of God even though she was a woman and not thought worthy of such conversation. And in the end, even though she questioned his statements, he offered her a wonderful blessing by telling her that he was the Messiah.
All he asks her to do is to acknowledge her past life and then believe his words concerning how the time is coming when true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth. Jesus in reaching out to her where she was, gave her what she needed, just as he gives all who accept him, the good news of life, hope, and the assurance of salvation.
He talks to her and she rushes off to tell others of this man. I do not believe it was just because he knew of her past. I do not believe it was just because he could tell her things that no stranger should know, that she spoke of him to her friends and neighbors. I do not even believe that it was just because he said he was the Messiah, as important as that is, for he had told many others that, and they did not accept him.
No, I think the reason she rushed off was because he showed his acceptance of her, right where she was in her life, even with her marriage problems and her present living arrangements. Jesus showed her that he loved her. He did not condemn her, he treated her as a person worthy of respect, worthy of affection, worthy of love, and worthy of salvation. That is why I love this particular story, for in it you see Jesus accepting and embracing those whom many times we find less than worthy of our love. That is where he is at, and I say thank you Lord! I thank you dear Jesus for accepting me just as I am, as unlovable and as unworthy as I am. I Thank you for giving me the living water of your salvation.
I'm not much of gardener, but one thing I do know is that every plant needs two things to grow, even when it planted the best soil. It must have light and water. It needs light to make it grow and it needs water to survive, so it can grow.
I read an article Friday on an experiment in growing plants in space. In this one experiment half of the plants had light and half did not. Those with the light, had a nice green color, and were growing tall and straight, as they were attracted by the light. Those plants without the light, were dying and what little growth there was, was in all directions. There was nothing to keep them healthy, even though they had plenty of water. There was simply no light that could give direction to their lives.
That is how our lives would be without the light of Christ, for without his light, we would become spiritually anemic. Without Jesus’ light guiding our lives we would be just like those plants that went off in all directions searching for light, but never finding it.
Another thing about plants is that you can put them in the brightest light, but if they are in dry soil, they really struggle to survive, and the dryer the soil gets the more they begin to wither. Those plants, whose leaves are starting to curl or droop, need water, and lots of it fast, so that they can survive, and thrive.
It would not help them to give them more sunlight, they need water. They need water so that their roots can soak up the life-giving water. After a dry plant has had a good soaking of water they change. Some plants will change in front of your eyes, others will just begin to look better, but they all will begin to grow and in time if they are the proper kind of plant will produce the fruit that they have been designed to produce. All plants need light and water to thrive, and spiritually we are no different.
Just like that woman at the well needed to see the light of Jesus, so that she could receive living water. So just as Jesus is the Light to the world, We need his living water for some of us might be awfully dry right now, while others of us are probably well watered. But each one of us, whether we are dry or moist at this very moment, needs the living water that Jesus says he has come to give, that water which wells up to eternal life, that water which never stops flowing into our lives as it continues to bring life to us.
I give thanks to God today, for his love shown by Christ, that love which is poured out on me whenever I am withering and in danger of not producing good fruit.
I give thanks to God today, for his love which gives me hope in those times that I feel hopeless.
I give thanks to God today, for his love that gives me peace, in those times I can not find peace.
I give thanks to God today, for his love has given me assurance of forgiveness, when I was feel like I cannot be forgiven.
In giving thanks to God before you today I am doing what the woman at the well did after encountering Jesus. I am pointing to the one who is the Messiah, the one promised from long ago. I am pointing to the one who has accepted me as I am, the one who calls me a brother and does not hold my human failings against me, the one who encourages me when I need encouragement and challenges me when I need challenging. I am pointing to the one that never, even when I argue with him, or push him aside, rejects or condemns me.
In closing I would like to say a little more about the living water that Jesus was talking about giving to the woman in our text. I think that most of us, if not all, would agree that the living water that Jesus is talking about is a metaphor for Jesus life, death, and resurrection, for without him we cannot have eternal life.
I want to throw out for your consideration something that you might never have thought about, another way of thinking of the living water Jesus is talking about. To help make my point, I am going to use the Greek text, of verse 14, “Indeed, the water I give, whoever I give it to, it will become in that person a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
Not too much different, but enough to suggest that we are to be extensions of Jesus’ living water. We are not to be just containers that hold his water, for water that is still and not kept flowing soon becomes stagnate and finally worthless. We are to be containers that are overflowing with Christ’s living water. Which brings up an interesting question; could it be that the way we receive living water is by giving it away? I think so.
Will you join me in sharing the living water of Jesus Christ with those in our community, and world, so that they too can be filled to overflowing with the living water of Jesus Christ? I hope so, for you see, Jesus is the only living water that can save a person from God’s just wrath. Amen
What is the Gospel?
Second Sunday in Lent series A
March 5, 2023
Sermon Text: John 3:1-17
'What Is The Gospel?'
In his letter to the Romans, from which today's appointed Epistle Reading is taken, St. Paul writes these words in the very first chapter: "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God." And further: "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." And, then, at the end of Romans, he says again: "The grace was given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the Gospel of God."
The Gospel is the one word that sums up the apostolic ministry of St. Paul, which summarizes this penitential season of Lent and sets the Christian faith apart from every other religion in the world.
But what exactly is the Gospel, the Good News? After all, in religious circles these days, the word 'Gospel' refers to just about anything and everything except 'the Gospel' that St. Paul is talking about. There is the 'prosperity Gospel' proclaimed by so-called evangelicals who teach that if you really truly give your heart to Jesus, that if you really work hard enough and pray long enough, God will bless you with material riches.
Or the 'social Gospel' taught and believed in many churches where the Good News has been reduced to nothing more than addressing such social issues like world hunger or global warming or what have you, or the God is "love" Gospel, so anything you do or say is okay – those Gospels St Paul writes it in Galatians, is "a different Gospel which is no Gospel at all, a distortion of the Gospel of Christ."
And so, what exactly is the Gospel, the Good News? Well, that is what we want to focus our thoughts on today. And this we shall do by taking a closer look at the various words and phrases of what is probably the most familiar passage in all of Holy Scripture – John 3:16, which is often called 'the Gospel in a nutshell.' So we begin: "For God..." And this is far more significant and important than we might first think; for the Gospel message, the Christian faith, begins not with us but with God. Right away, we are directed away from ourselves, away from the things and the events of this world, to the one, holy, almighty, eternal God who has revealed Himself in His Word. You see, God is not just some vague, higher power, but the all-powerful, all-wise, all-knowing, all-seeing Creator and Ruler of the entire universe who has made us in His image. God – in whom and through whom we live and move and have our very being; that is where the Gospel, the Christian faith, begins.
"For God so loved ..." Now, what is so amazing is that this one, holy, almighty, eternal God is not only a God of awesome power, righteous wrath, and justice, but He is also a God of love. And yet, how often do we flippantly and carelessly speak of God's love that we rob it of its meaning? God is our lover.
"For God so loved the world ..." Now, who exactly does God love? Who does God have compassion and pity, care and concern for? Why, the world! But here, in these words, we come face to face with the fantastic and amazing truth that God loves the world. Yes, God loves His creation even though it has been corrupted and marred by sin. God loves all whom He has made even though, as the psalmist declares, "There is not a righteous person on earth who does good and sins not." God loves us. He is concerned about us and cares for us. What a Gospel! What Good News!
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son ..." What specifically has God given us? What are the concrete expressions of God's love for the world? Well, there are many, but the best gift of all is God's only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who took upon Himself our very flesh and blood in the womb of the virgin Mary and came into this world as one of us.
God gave His only Son as the supreme gift of all – as the atoning sacrifice for the entire world's sins, as the payment price for our many violations of His holy Law, as the One who would die in our very place on a cross. What a Gospel! What Good News for sinners like you and like me!
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever ..." Now, notice again who the gift is for, 'whoever' To be sure, this is most difficult for us to really grasp and accept. After all, somehow, we cannot envision the Son of God hanging on Calvary's cross as the stream of humanity passes by without indicating, "For this one I die, because they meet the criteria I set out for them to obey. The others I did not die for because, well, they did not meet my standard. But no, God does not act that way. Instead, He dies for all – for 'whoever,' including you and me; thank you, Lord.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him ..." Whoever does what? "whoever believes in Him." It's as simple as that. No works are necessary, but only an empty heart that believes gratefully and accepts and receives the blessings of God's great love.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." Now, when all is said and done, what is the end result of the Son of God dying on the cross? What happens to those who do believe in Him? Just this: eternal life – a life where sin and death, sorrow and shame, wrath and punishment, pain and tears, are no more; a life with the one, holy God not only in eternity but even right here and now.
And is not this what you and I and all people really need? After all, financial security does absolutely nothing to secure your eternal future. Your good health is going to last only so long until you close your eyes in death. Peace among the nations, peace among family members, is not only fleeting at best, but will last for this life only. But here in the Gospel, we have a life, peace, health, security that lasts forever. What a Gospel! What Good News!
And so, there you have it – the Gospel: the Good News, the heart of Lent, the center of the entire Christian faith the one message that sets the Christian faith apart from every other religion in the world' the one message that alone is to be proclaimed here among us, the one message that so many others in this world also need to hear and believe the one and the only message in this world that is of eternal significance and importance, the one message that truly and really is Good News: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."
May God grant that, by the power of His Holy Spirit, such may indeed be so and continue to be so for every single one of us. Amen.
Jesus' temptation Series A
SERMON: Sin and Despair, Salvation and Hope
Our texts today deal with sin and temptation and with grace and faith. The Old Testament reading tells us how Adam and Eve were tempted and sinned against God in the Garden of Eden. The Gospel reading shows Christ living blamelessly in the face of evil by the power of faith.
Temptation and sin, grace and faith are the great themes of our lives as we live our lives - the axis around which everything else revolves. As Christians, we believe that sin has a deadly power from Satan's lips. But we also believe that faith has power - a live-giving power that comes from God.
In our lives, we experience a struggle between these two powers, and even when we are on the side of life, even when we have faith in the God of life, we experience temptation, we feel desires, and live through events that test our faith and seek to lure us away from God and have us serve evil instead.
I believe that most of us feel when it comes to the sin that is in the world, and maybe within ourselves, we are tempted to give in to despair - the despair that nothing we can do will make a difference, the despair that says that there is no help or hope for us or our world. Indeed I believe that this is the greatest temptation of our age.
But my friends, we have within us one who is stronger than the world, one who is greater than the tempter, one who has triumphed over evil both in life - as we see in the story of Jesus' temptations in the wilderness and in death - as we see in the cross - and again three days later - in the resurrection.
Some people - most people perhaps - dwell too much on the negative side of things. Like the game shows Jeopardy - all their answers to life's problems are expressed as questions. They see the problems that exist all around us - but do not lay hold of the solutions - of the good news that also exists all around us - of the salvation that is offered to us all - without condition or qualification.
They despair on account of the giants -forgetting perhaps the story of David -and of how one small stone in his hands ended the Goliath that threatened his nation and caused even Saul and his mighty army to despair of ever being victorious.
A man by the name of Richard Lederer collects funny signs. Some of these are simply the result of people in foreign countries having difficulty translating into English. He says that at the entrance to a river swimming spot, there is a sign: "Swimming is forbidden in the absence of a savior."
Maybe the person who put up that sign knew our needs better than we may suppose. Not only swimming but life itself should not be lived in the absence of a Saviour. We have a Savior - one who remembers who we are.
Our Savior has ventured into the same waters we swim in daily. He has battled the currents - fought the foes - and shown that he is able and show that we - when we swim with him - are able as well.
Our Savior remembers who we are - loves us - and seeks the best for us. He knows that we are weak swimmers -that we, occasionally, will flounder and thrash and sink. He knows the waters we are in -and that is why he has been appointed the judge of the living and the dead.
He does not judge us for the sake of condemning us -as some believe. He takes no delight in catching us in our sin. He has no joy when we hurt ourselves or hurt others. Instead, he reaches out to us, calls us, and seeks to guide and help us. And like any good parent - he forgives us and does all he can to make sure that we start each day new and fresh and bathed in his love and mercy.
Or maybe it would be better if we consider our need for a savior to pull us out of the pits we find ourselves in as we do our own thing. Kenneth Filkins has caught this beautifully in a poem entitled "The Pit." Please take a look at the handout in the service folder. Visualize, if you will, a pit - a pit perhaps of your own devising – or one that you fell into because you were not paying attention - or perhaps one devised for you by others - visualize a pit into which you have fallen and cannot escape on your own.
Filkins writes: A man fell into a pit and he couldn't get out.
BUDDHA said: "Your pit is only a state of mind."
A HINDU said: "This pit is for purging you and making you more
CONFUCIUS said: "If you would have listened to me, you would
never have fallen into that pit."
A NEW AGER said: "Maybe you should network with some other pit
A SELF-PITYING PERSON said: "You haven't seen anything until
you've seen my pit."
A NEWS REPORTER said: "Could I have the exclusive story on your
A FEDERAL BUREAUCRAT said: "Have you paid your taxes on that
A COUNTY INSPECTOR said: "Do you have a permit for that pit?"
A REALIST said: "That's a pit."
An IDEALIST said: "The world shouldn't have pits."
An OPTIMIST said: "Things could be worse."
A PESSIMIST said: "Things will get worse."
BUT, then comes along Jesus, who, on SEEING THE MAN, TOOK HIM BY THE HAND AND LIFTED HIM OUT OF THE PIT.
A pit is an awful place to be -particularly the pit created by sin and temptation. But there is One who will help. There is one who did not succumb to the pit and who seeks to help us out of our pit. His name is Jesus - and he is willing. And not only is he willing - he has already acted - acted to save us -acted to bring to the world a new day. Who acted to bring to each of us a new life. All praise to him.
Do not dwell in whatever pit you are in. Do not accept the pit. Do not, as a video I watched not long ago, do as a sheep did after it was pulled out of a pit, run right back into another pit where it became hopelessly stuck.
Instead, look up from your pit so you can see Jesus reach down and hold you as he pulls you out, dusts you off, and sets you back on the straight path, the better life that is given freely to all who desire it. Amen.
Matthew 17:1-9 Series A
Transfiguration is a glimpse of glory.
Just before the beginning of Lent, the Christian Church goes mountain climbing every year. We go, like Peter and James and John did, following Jesus. At the mountain height, we see him as he is, for by him and with him, and in him, the glory of God shines.
The season of Epiphany ends as it begins with a brilliant light, a shining star guiding people to him. Jesus the Day Star, the bright and morning star, shines here on the mount of Transfiguration as the light from heaven shone above his cradle in Bethlehem thirty or so years earlier.
But why you might ask do we take the climb to see this light? Why do we take valuable time away from our busy lives and devote ourselves to climbing the mountain where God's glory is revealed? We might even think, in all honesty, God should be glad that I am here this morning, or for those watching on YouTube and Facebook that they are watching.
We climb the mountain of Transfiguration each year before we begin our journey in Lent, just as Moses climbed Mount Pisgah before he died to get a glimpse of the Promised Land to see where we are headed.
We are told in our Gospel reading that when Jesus arrived at the mountaintop, his figure changed, and the outside of him, which had been ordinary and like us, shone as if he was not like one of us. Jesus shone with the glory that caused Moses to shine that day on the Mountain of Sinai when the holy Law from heaven came down.
Jesus shone with the glory that carried Elijah up to heaven's height -gone from this world - but alive in the next. Jesus shone with the glory of his baptismal day when his Father's voice from above was heard to say: "This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased" - and indeed those words first uttered at the Jordan River that day are repeated on the Mountain Top, except this time God the Father added, "Listen to him." A holy command that we, too, are to obey by listening, truly listening to him as he speaks in his love letter to us, the Bible.
What can mere mortals say when faced with such glory? "Let all mortal flesh keep silence," says the old hymn. But not Peter. When in doubt, shouts it out. First, he says the obvious, "Lord, it is good for us to be here." How about we prolong this camp-out on the mountain, Lord? We can rig up a tent for you and Elijah and even one for Moses.
But that, of course, was not the point. As Elijah and Moses disappeared with Jesus only remaining, God was pointing out that the Law, as signified by Elijah and Moses, had been replaced by God's Son, Jesus. Jesus faced the long journey to another mountain, where he would be lifted higher on a cross. Jesus knew the long walk to the cross was ahead, with all its problems.
Jesus knew that he could walk away from the will of the Holy One. Jesus knew that he had a way out of this, but Jesus also knew that because he is so madly in love with us, he would not take a way out. He knew what needed to be done to make peace between us and God's righteous wrath.
As unlikely as it seems, the scripture tells us in many places that to be like Jesus is our destiny, that the intention of God in his calling of us is to make us like him. Because of Jesus, we are destined for glory like his - a glory that will make us shine as he did that day.
But first - as with Jesus - there is a cross we need to bear. And so - each year, we climb the mountain of Transfiguration with him and his beloved disciples. We climb it to share the vision that Peter, James, and John beheld that day and to be strengthened by it, for there is a rough road ahead of us between now and seeing Jesus in person
The wonderful news of God's Sacred romance with us, a love that exceeds anything we can imagine, is that he gives us the vision and the strength we need to face the fears and shortcomings of our lives, to respond to the call of God to live beyond ourselves, to live lives of sacrifice and courage till the glory we see in Christ today settles on us, not just for a day, but forever.
In the coming weeks, as we walk with Jesus, we will be reminded over and over again that the Lord did not go straight from his baptism to heaven. He went out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and walked the path of suffering for us, prayed for us, and fought the spiritual fight for us, that he bled and died for us. We will remember and ponder his love for us.
In the greatest love story ever told we are to remember during Lent that God has made the cross the way of life and peace, which is a good thing for our destiny is joined to Christ's destiny. We remember during Lent as the hymn "Amazing Grace" tells us, don't worry, I will not sing it.
"Amazing grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
Was blind, but now I see."
We remember during Lent that as the last verse of "Amazing Grace" tells us,
"When we've been there ten thousand years,
bright shining as the sun,
we've no less days to sing God's praise
than when we first begun."
The glimpse that we are granted of Christ's glory on the holy mountain today is a foretaste of heaven, the image of humanity as God intended us to be in creation. As we prepare to bring ourselves into the disciplined walk of faith and devotion during Lent, we remember this glory of God that calls to us. We remember that we will be bright, shining as the sun.
Everything we do in Lent brings us a step closer to the joys of Easter. On the holy mountain of Transfiguration, we taste those sweet eternal joys. We take strength from them, Christ's strength, as we prepare to walk our Lenten journey together.
I urge you to attend the Wednesday evening services. For as wonderful as Easter Sunday, or as I like to say, "Resurrection Sunday" since bunnies and Easter eggs have pretty much taken it over, is with the music, choir, and glorious message of Jesus' Resurrection, I don't believe that you can feel the true joy of Easter without walking with him on his journey to the cross. Blessed be his name, now and forever more. Amen.
February 12th, 2023
2-12-23 Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Living the Joy of Participating in the Sacred Romance
In the Greek language from which our Bibles are translated, there are three different words for love. First, there is sexual love, that love between a husband and wife. Secondly, there is brotherly love, such as close friends, siblings, or relatives might have for each other. I think you could also include those who would give their life up to save others in that category. Last but certainly not least is the love that loves for the sake of loving. That is perfect love, the love that only God has.
Since Tuesday is Valentines Day, I want to share with you some of my thoughts on a book written by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge titled 'The Sacred Romance.' In their book, they invite the reader to think about their relationship with God, who comes to the rescue of the brokenhearted. The truth of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection, is intended to free us to love God and others with our whole hearts.
Deep down, if we are honest with our deepest longings, we all long for the love that only God can give us. I want you to think of God's salvation story in the sense of it being a cosmic drama. Our longing for love and unconditional acceptance is the setting for what Brent and John call the Sacred Romance.
Like any good drama, the hero comes to the rescue of his beloved; that is us. God, the Father, is the author of this romance, and God the Son is the lead character. We, the beloved, need to be delivered from the arrows of life that inflict harm on us and cause us to pull away from God the Father, who wants to rescue us.
"The process of our sanctification, our journey rests entirely on our ability to see life from the basis of two questions. Who are we, and where is God in our lives as we live them today? Even though it might seem like it at times, our lives are not random series of events; they tell a personal story that has meaning. We are in a Sacred Romance. There is something wonderful that draws our hearts; we are being wooed. We are the Beloved; our hearts are the most important thing about us."
Brent and John claim that we have lived for so long with a rational approach to Christianity, getting all the facts straight, and learning the catechism when we were young, that we have nearly lost what it truly means to be a Christian that truly rejoices for being forgiven. Who truly has the desire to love others because God loves us.
They put forth in this book that we should see Scripture as a cosmic drama in four acts—creation, Fall, redemption, and hope—dramatic narratives you can apply to all areas of life. "Our rationalistic approach to life has, for too many Christians, stripped us of a faith that is barely more than mere fact-telling. Modern evangelicalism reads like an instruction book. Everything in the book is true, for all the facts are there, but it doesn't take your breath away. It does not force us to our knees in reverence and awe, as with Moses at the burning bush or the disciples in the presence of the risen Christ."
Act I God's Eternal Heart. We must remember that the big-picture, the Sacred Romance, began long before our overwhelming smaller stories began. Before time existed, there was a loving relationship we cannot even begin to grasp between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
In Act II, God's heart is betrayed when the angel Lucifer, or as we are more familiar, Satan, turns on his Maker and gains traction with others in the heavenly realm with the idea that God doesn't have a pure loving heart.
Act III of the Cosmic Drama God puts his heart on trial in the flurry of dramatic actions we call "creation." What were his motives for doing this? Paul explained God's intentions in the first chapter of Ephesians. "Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son. Long before we got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs for glorious living." (The Message).
For a true romance to occur, we must be free to reject God. After the Fall, humanity now lives our own small, tarnished lives that leave us unfulfilled. Too often, we settle for just getting through our daily and seasonal routines instead living in a trusting, loving relationship with God.
Act IV of the Cosmic Drama is the continuation of the Story interrupted by the Fall. God made the earth and entrusted it to humanity to take care of it while enjoying its beauty and living off its produce. "That arrangement was corrupted by the Fall. Humanity no longer responds to his leadership as it once did. When Christ accomplished our redemption, he restored us to put us back in the game."
Act V Heaven is not something that begins after this life is over. God's rule in our hearts begins when we are drawn into a relationship with Christ. God invites us to participate in his ongoing work restoring order and beauty. He calls us to participate in helping the kingdom of God break into the lives around us. Paul's prayer as it is recorded in Ephesians chapter one is that the God of glory How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son. Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we're a free people - free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in the deepest Heaven, everything on planet earth. (Ephesians 1, The Message).
God's Incarnation, his becoming one of us, was a daring raid into enemy territory. The whole world lay under the power of the evil one, and we were held in the dungeons of darkness. God risked it all to rescue us. What does God want from us in response to his reckless ambition that shoves all conventions aside, willing literally to move Heaven and earth?
From one religious camp, we're told that what God wants is obedience, sacrifice, or adherence to the right doctrines or morality. Other religious camps tell us that God is after our contentment, happiness, self-actualization, or something else along those lines. Of course, he is concerned about all these things, but they are not his primary concern. What he is after is us—our laughter, our tears, our dreams, our fears, our hearts of hearts. In other words, our love and trust. Remember his lament in Isaiah 29:13, that though his people were performing all their duties, 'their hearts are far from me.'"
When the prophet Elijah was worn out and in need of restoration, he did not hear God in a great wind, earthquake, or fire. Finally, he heard him in a "gentle whisper." God today desires to talk with us in the quietness of our own hearts through his Spirit, who, as we are told in God's words, is in us. His voice has whispered to us about a Sacred Romance, a romance unlike anything we have ever or will know. A Sacred Romance that is much bigger than the distractions that keep me focused on the details of my life. His Spirit is wooing us to realize there is something more to my life than the routines I have settled for. He is wooing us into a closer relationship with Christ.
Without our hearing and believing the Spirit's whispers urging us to look for something more in our life with God, making progress in the life of sanctification remains another duty. Our hearts, minds, and bodies have to be in the effort.
It is not within us to change our sin-oriented hearts. We may want to rely on willpower, but that won't last long. Just look at how many times you have vowed to make a spiritual change in your life, and it did not turn out well. We just cannot do it on our own.
The journey of sanctification is more likely to engage our hearts when we realize the much bigger Cosmic Drama of what God wanted our relationship with him to be like in the Sacred Romance Drama. Appreciating his wooing love can arouse our hearts of love to participate in the act of joyful living. We are part of something much bigger — the greatest love story ever told! Amen
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
The Shining Light of the Cross
Matthew 5:13-20 and I Corinthians 1:1-12
Our Epiphany Gospel reading for this morning in verses fourteen and fifteen tells us, "You are the Light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives Light to all in the house.".
I can't speak for you, but every time I hear or read those words, I am struck by how terrible I am at being the Light of Christ to those I come into contact with during the week. I can do a pretty good job in what I call a safe area, but when there is a chance of being ridiculed or laughed at, I am not very good at being the Light that Jesus wants me to be.
This was brought to my attention at Vals Pizza several weeks ago when I had lunch with a local pastor. By the time we had finished lunch and were walking out the door, he had told five other people, total strangers, about Jesus and invited them to worship at his church. Every time he spoke to someone, it was done in such a natural and loving way that he lived his life as a Light to the world. I was amazed and ashamed because I would not have done that in a restaurant.
I wondered why I wouldn't have done what he did. First, I would have thought it was inappropriate, but the more I thought about it, the more I had to admit I would not have done what he was doing because I was afraid to share Jesus with those in the restaurant. I would rather take the easy way out and hide my Light, actually Jesus' Light, under a basket, as our Gospel tells us.
I have done a lot of soul searching since then, and hopefully, I will do better in the future as I remember that I have been touched by the Light of Jesus, as verse four in the sermon hymn tells us.
Please join me in reading together verse four, "From the Cross, Thy wisdom shining Breaketh forth in conquering might; From the Cross forever beameth all Thy bright redeeming Light. Alleluia, alleluia Praise to Thee who Light does send, Alleluia, alleluia without end."
When I think of the Cross, especially the Cross that Jesus died on I usually think of sin, extreme pain, death, and darkness. But this hymn says, "No! from the Cross shines God's wisdom. From the Cross shines redeeming Light. From the Cross comes our great epiphany—that we will not be condemned! For Christ, the Light is crucified for you! The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus, the Light nailed to a Cross, is the central truth of our faith that enlightens the human mind.
St. Paul says, "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." This does not mean that he avoided other topics. In 1 Corinthians, Paul discusses many issues: marriage and divorce, the Lord's Supper and its proper practice, lawsuits, conflicts among parishioners, the hope of the resurrection, spiritual gifts, and the higher gift of love.
When Paul says to speak "only of Christ crucified," he means that as far as one's salvation is concerned, Christ crucified is all you need, for the Light on the Cross shows us the depth of our sin. Our sin is so great it took the blood of Jesus to cleanse us. If God willingly gave up his own Son for my forgiveness, for your forgiveness, he must like forgiving.
Yes, the Cross proves there is joy in heaven when even one sinner repents. And if we are forgiven in Christ, then we have been reconciled to the Father. And if we have been reconciled to the Father, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And if we have peace with him, the devil no longer has any claim on us, for we belong to God!
The Light of the Cross is the key to all wisdom, and once you have it, the Gospel reveals one truth on top of another. Those who don't understand the Cross see the Law as an enemy because God's Law is a constant reminder that they do not measure up. They hate it. And even among Christians, our sinful flesh still kicks and screams and puts up a fight when we are faced with the accusing finger of the Law.
But the new man—standing in the Light of the Cross—thinks much differently. He delights in the Law because he sees that the Law is cross-shaped. It's about denying ourselves (like Jesus did for us), taking up our own Cross (like Jesus did for us), and then loving him as he loves us.
You see, when you view the Law through the eyes of love, the Law becomes lovely because it pictures our Jesus. As Christ says in our Gospel, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Mt 5:16). We are to delight in every commandment because, in the fulfillment of each, we see the Light of Jesus on the Cross.
When you see Jesus as the Light of the Cross, you start to eliminate wrong ideas about God, like the idea that your suffering happened because God is out to get you or because God is callous and doesn't care. Thoughts like that cannot be true. If he did not spare his own Son, he certainly loves you and clearly has your best interests in mind.
The Light of the Cross offers possible alternatives to your questions about why this is happening to me. Perhaps God is using this event to strengthen your faith or to teach you to pray. Perhaps he's conforming you into the image of his Son; he's making you more Christlike. Perhaps he's taking away an idol that was ruining your life, or he's simply making you long for the next life, for the new world to come when he wipes away every tear from your eyes. While we cannot answer all such questions specifically, we can be confident that whatever the answer is, it is rooted in his love for you.
Think about it: had you been there with the followers of Jesus on Good Friday, it would have seemed horrible and meaningless. You might have asked, "How can a good God allow this to happen?" The enemy seemed victorious. However, St. Peter proclaims that it was all "according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23). God knew what evil would try to do, and God used evil's intentions to accomplish his plans. They intended it for evil, but God meant it for good.
Likewise, God foreknew your suffering, and though the devil intends to use suffering to drive a wedge between you and God, God will work all things—even your suffering—for your good. The Light of the Cross reveals this! It reveals God's character—his love—and how he works all things, even evil things, for your good. Indeed, the Light of the Cross reveals all things. It reveals sin and grace. It gives us a joyous delight in the Gospel and helps us to delight in the Law!
And finally, let the Light of the Cross shine on your pain and suffering. It will give you the endurance and patience to withstand your trials with faith. So it is with good reason that Paul says, I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
"You are the Light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives Light to all in the house. In the same way, let your Light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Amen
4th Sunday after the Epiphany
Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Title: Blessed are those who live as God desires
The Greek word that is translated as blessed in our Gospel reading this morning, depending on the context in which it is used, can be translated as blessed, fortunate, or happy as the world defines those things. In other words, being blessed or happy or joyful comes from our attitude and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Unfortunately, that type of happiness, joyfulness, or blessedness can change quickly.
An example of this would be something like this. Penny, our children, and I occasionally went camping in a National Forest or Park. I would try to find a quiet place with a view of the lake, away from the other campers. That, to me, was happiness. Then, occasionally someone in a motorhome would park next to us. That in itself was not too bad until they turned on their generator. My happiness turned quickly to unhappiness. You see, my happiness depended on the circumstances around us at the time.
What image pops into your mind when you think of being happy or joyful? What are some of the happiest moments in your life? For most of us, family occasions are amongst some of the happiest days of our lives. What are those things or qualities that enable you to be happy? Food? Family? Friends? Health? Clothing? Good relationships? A roof over your head? Money in the bank? Knowing that others love you? All of these? Some of these? What are the ingredients that create a recipe of happiness for you? Did you notice that our view of happiness depends on the circumstances and environment we find ourselves experiencing.
It is with this mood and theme of happiness that we approach the New Testament gospel lesson for today. The gospel lesson for today is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, "Blessed are the….".
Unlike the worldly concept of happienence which is fleeting, the biblical concept of being blessed or happy is something that comes from outside of us and our circumstances, for blessed or happiness, or joy, depending on how you translate the Greek word, has the meaning of being blessed in the sense of being the recipient of God's favor. Being blessed has to do with the Spirit of God living inside you. Being blessed is the assurance that God is with you and in you in all circumstances. It knows that in all circumstances, good and bad, God is in control and will take care of you. It knows that God has a plan, a purpose, and a prayer for you, even when the circumstances are unhappy. This all means that you can be blessed or happy during unhappy circumstances.
That does not sound right. You see, the problem we have is we live in an upside-down world that we consider right side up. So we often understand God's words in a way that makes sense to us, and if it doesn't, we throw up our hands and say it makes no sense.
Let's read the Beatitudes together.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
You see that Jesus' definition of what it means to be blessed doesn't depend on you and what is happening around you? The "blessed" sayings of Jesus – the Beatitudes – present us with a whole new idea of what it means to be blessed, or happy, or joyful, depending on how your Bible translates the Greek word. True blessedness involves knowing God, belonging to God's Kingdom, being a part of God's family, relying on Jesus' love for us, being certain that he will always stand by us, and holding us up when the journey is challenging. It is all about the grace of God.
True blessedness happens when God finds you in the middle of all the difficulties you have living out your Christian faith in your daily lives; when you are sad and upset; when you are despondent and depressed; when others reject you and ridicule you for your faith or for sticking up for what you believe is right; when you are trying to show mercy and love or bring about peace and are told to butt out. That is when God meets you, Strengthens and comforts you, helps you endure, and gives you the courage to move on. That is being blessed.
The Beatitudes are all about God's grace. You don't have to do something to earn this blessedness. In truth, it cannot be earned, only received as a gift from God. A pure gift of God's grace.
That's the secret of true blessedness, happiness, or joyfulness, the kind that rises above the circumstances and gives you peace! You may be suffering a great deal from sickness; you may be persecuted for doing what you consider the right thing; you may be upset about your own sinfulness or the weakness of your faith; you may even be disappointed in those who have failed to show love toward you.
Wherever circumstances you find yourself, you are still "blessed" in the knowledge that you are one of God's precious children, that he sent his Son to die for you, and that he has given you his Holy Spirit to inspire, strengthen and encourage you when everything has been turned upside down.
St Paul knew sadness, disappointment, and even poverty, but he also knew that, as he wrote down, "I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me." That blessedness, no circumstance or person can take away from you.
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Epiphany, the season of Light, is when we see that Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of Old Testament properties. In today’s Old Testament reading, Isaiah speaks a prophetic word of liberty and hope in Isaiah chapter 9 to a people who lived in spiritual darkness. Isaiah speaks of the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. He says, “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time, he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time, he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations” (v 1).
Zebulun and Naphtali are part of the Promised Land—the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Looking back in Biblical history, we find that each of the twelve tribes of Israel is allotted its portion of the land. Zebulun is one of those tribes, as is Naphtali, and they were allotted neighboring lands in the northern part of Israel. Think of Zebulun and Naphtali like Pennsylvania and New York. They’re both in the north, and they share a border.
Zebulun and Naphtali are beautiful and fertile areas, but their location in the northern part of Israel makes them vulnerable to foreign invaders. Conquering armies and military incursions. For you see, when foreign countries invade the land of Israel of which they are a part, they almost always come from the north because that’s the easiest way to get into Israel. The Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River, which flows south from it, form a natural barrier along Israel’s eastern edge. The Mediterranean Sea forms a natural barrier to the west. Thus, alien invaders who are looking to go south to Jerusalem or even to Egypt are funneled first through the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. Thanks to the geography of Israel, the tribal lands of Zebulun and Naphtali are perpetually on the front lines of war and bloodshed.
In fact, at the time of Isaiah’s prophecy, invaders known as the Assyrians are in the process of conquering Zebulun and Naphtali. Within a few years, the entire Northern Kingdom of Israel will be completely overthrown, and the remaining Southern Kingdom of Judah will be brought to its knees before God’s miraculous intervention.
Zebulun and Naphtali then are rightly identified by Isaiah as a land upon which the Lord brought contempt. They were a land of darkness and shadow. It was so bad that just a few verses earlier Isaiah called them a land with “no dawn” that suffers “the gloom of anguish” (8:20, 22).
And remember, God had brought these invaders upon the land only because the Northern kingdom, Israel had abandoned him, and fallen into idolatry and all kinds of sin. So Zebulun and Naphtali were a land of contempt filled with people who sit and walk and dwell in the darkness of deeds deemed damning by God.
It is to these hopeless people that Isaiah speaks a word of hope. Isaiah speaks of a stunning reversal of fortunes. God intends to make this “land of contempt” glorious. But how? How will this land go from contemptuous to glorious? We know that the people were incapable of changing. The change has to come from entirely outside them. God will bring upon them another invader. Except for this time, it isn’t a nation that will infiltrate the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. This time it will be just one man. And he doesn’t come to them from out of the north like all the other alien invaders.
He comes from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, from Jerusalem. Jesus does not take hostages, he plunders no grain, he exacts no taxes, and he sheds no blood except his own. Instead, Jesus teaches, and he preaches, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
It is this man—and the good news he brings to the nations —who is a great light upon this land of darkness because the Lord isn’t interested in holding this land in contempt. He isn’t looking to extract from Zebulun and Naphtali their greatest resources. He’s looking to redeem their greatest resource— namely, the people themselves, the people he had formed into a great nation.
The more Jesus preaches, the more Jesus teaches, the more Jesus serves, the brighter the light shines. The evangelist Matthew says, “So [Jesus’] fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them” (Mt 4:24). People are flowing into Zebulun and Naphtali, not to conquer them but to be rescued by one in the midst of them.
As the light of Jesus Christ increases, the true source of darkness is exposed. The greatest threat to the people of Zebulun and Naphtali was never the foreign invaders from the north. The greatest threat to the people of Zebulun and Naphtali is their own sin, the specter of death, and the devil’s schemes. These are the things that held Zebulun and Naphtali in perpetual darkness. These were the real forces of oppression in their lives. And these are the oppressors from whom Jesus will rescue them.
Jesus, like any invader, makes a claim upon this people. He’s claiming to be their Lord, and he’s directing them to acknowledge his father as King. He is not going to force his kingdom on them, for his kingdom is a kingdom of freedom. They will not be won over by threats because his kingdom is of grace. They will not be won over by extortion because his kingdom is a kingdom of gifts and love.
And it is God’s love that will break the yoke of their burden. It is God’s love that will break the rod of their oppressor. It is God’s love that will send Jesus south out of Zebulun and Naphtali to the city of Jerusalem to die on the cross. And when Jesus dies on the cross, Zebulun and Naphtali the people who lived in spiritual darkness, will know that darkness, that is the darkness of sin and unbelief, cannot overcome the Light when Jesus rises from the dead.
You and I don’t share the geographical particulars with Zebulun and Naphtali. If you’re living in North America, you’re unlikely to be on the front lines of any foreign army. But the darkness that engulfed Zebulun and Naphtali doesn’t care about geography because it isn’t darkness caused by someone else. Our darkness is local, homegrown darkness. Our darkness is our own sinful flesh.
For that darkness, Isaiah tells us all to look to Zebulun and Naphtali for hope, because a great light has shone. This light is Jesus Christ and his ministry, and it is a ministry for all people of all times and all geographical places. This light is for you. It invades your life. The salvation first seen in Galilee is now coming for you. Indeed, it’s already here. Jesus Christ the Light is here for you. He expels darkness. He forgives your sins, he casts out the devil, and he promises to raise the dead, all with the effect of increased joy.
Where are you today? Have you been shutting the door of your heart to the light of Jesus? Maybe you have because you think that you do not really need his Light, after all, life is good. Maybe you are afraid of what the Light of Jesus would do if you let it fully illuminate your heart and your life.
Whatever excuse you might have for not living your life in the full Light of Jesus, do not be afraid to open your heart and mind to him. Just do it, trust in him, for the Light of Jesus Christ still burns brightly, waiting to illuminate the darkest corners of your life, even the places where the scary things live, the things you don’t tell anyone about. The things you have tried to forget or excuse. Let his wonderful comforting Light fall on you, for only then will you be free to live life to the fullness he wants you to live it, now and in eternity. Amen
Epiphany 2 series A 1-15-23
This doesn’t happen very often with our readings, but today there’s one theme that can be found in all of our readings from scripture. It’s the notion of being called, not called like being called to supper, but being called to do the Lord’s work.
The readings from Isaiah and from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians both begin with words about being called, about being set apart by God much like the word holy which does not mean sinless, but being set apart for the work of the Lord. This fits right in with today’s section of Matthew’s gospel, in which we hear his account of what is usually called “The Call of the First Disciples.” John the Baptist points to Jesus and says of him, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Two of the Baptist’s disciples hear this, decide to check out this Jesus guy, and end up abandoning John and going off with Jesus instead. It’s this call, the call of these first two disciples, that is the one we need to pay special attention to if we want to understand what it’s usually like to be called by God.
After all, this business of being called is a tricky and important thing. It’s easy to get confused about being called. We tend to equate being called in terms of the language and context in 1 Corinthians and Isaiah. We talk of being called to be ordained or called to a special – usually a full-time and professional – form of service, almost always in the church.
And that’s about all we do with being called, and it’s convenient. By looking at things this way, most of us can listen to the story of the call of these disciples and neatly separate what happened to them from our own lives. “After all, they were called the man himself, Jesus. So we’re safe from all that call business. It’s about someone else.
An interesting perspective on this can be gained by sitting in on the first interview of a person who wants to become a pastor, or a deacon or deaconnes, or a teacher. One of the things you will quickly notice is how folks really struggle with this idea of call.
A few of the people interviewed will have had powerful experiences of the presence of God, and they think that this means they have to do something new and different. This usually means to run off and get ordained.
But the vast majority of people interviewed have come to where they are through pretty ambiguous, complicated, and circuitous paths – paths that have led them to suspect that it might be a good idea to get ordained. At the same time, they aren’t sure if they are “called,” whatever that might mean. So they all just dread talking to the interview committee because they know they will be asked about it, and they all think they ought to have a better answer than they do.
But the fact is, this whole way of looking at and looking for a call from God as a call to a specific job or a task really misses the main point. Sure, there may well be such a special call to a specific ministry or type of service, although that is both rare and very easily misunderstood. But that’s not usually what the Bible is talking about when it talks about being called; it’s not what’s going on in the gospel we just heard, and it’s not what is usually going on with us as God calls us.
For you see, being ordained, or being a missionary or something like that, is quite secondary to the real, the call we all have from God. Those two followers of John the Baptist, who Jesus asked to “come and see,” were called exactly as we are called. They were called to be disciples – just as we are called to be disciples. They were called to be disciples in their place and in their time for the sake of their generation.
One of the things this means is that we don’t have to imitate Andrew’s, John’s, or Peter’s actions to see, with some clarity, how their call is like the call of Christ to each of us us.
The first thing to notice is that Jesus does not first or primarily call them to do a particular task or to fill a particular role. Indeed, he didn’t ask them to do anything. Our call as Christians is not initially for us – as it was not, initially, for his first disciples – a call to tasks.
It is, instead, the call is an invitation to a relationship. Jesus does not say, “Do this”; he says, “Come and see.” He only gives specific content and direction to where that might lead later. There’s a big difference between a call to a task and an invitation to a relationship.
To respond to a call for a relationship, for intimacy, is a very different from signing up to do a piece of work – in the same way, falling in love is very different from getting hired. To set out to do a job requires some clarity about what is involved, it’s negotiable, it has its limits, you know what it looks like when the job is over, and so on. To be called into a relationship – to be called in love – this is an invitation to enter a mystery; it’s to move out in faith into uncharted waters.
When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he is first calling us to himself – to personal intimacy and shared life. That’s what matters. That’s what is primary. Everything else is left behind; everything else becomes secondary.
If we look at Jesus’ call from the perspective of what’s left behind, it’s a call to repent. But if we see that same call from the perspective of what comes next, it’s a call to seek him first, to know him better, and to move toward making that relationship the central focus of our lives.
When we are called, and we are called, each and every one of us – just look again at our Baptismal Covenant – this is primarily a call to be held by Jesus for a while, and not to go anywhere, not to do anything. It’s a call to find out where Jesus lives, and to spend some time living there. By and by, this will lead us somewhere. But we won’t know where for a while, maybe not for a long while.
This is why a sense of call – something that wanders through our lives from time to time – can often be both frightening and frustrating. We might know something, perhaps something very important is going on, something that has to do with all of our life and much more. Then, grabbing onto the wrong notion of a call from God, we start looking for what we are called to do. After all, we live in a society that insists that for something to be important, it has to produce results.
Instead of that, we are, especially at the beginning, asked to get to know God and Jesus a little better. It’s a call to listen and to wait. It’s a time to imitate the psalmist and “listen to what the Lord God is saying.” We need that first. We need that most.
This happened to those first disciples – they stayed close to Jesus for a while. They learned what they could and came to know him a little. Then, admittedly long before they thought they were ready, Jesus gave them things to do. For some, these tasks were dramatic; for others, they were quiet and invisible. The call to Jesus will always, in one form or another, find expression in ministry. But the call comes first. There can be no real, abiding, and sustaining ministry without a relationship with Christ, without obedience to him as he calls us to himself.
You see, first of all, each of us is called to be a disciple. That call comes with our baptism, and that call to relationship and ministry will haunt us, and track us down; it will trouble our sleep and whisper in our ears at the worst possible times. It will grow stronger and weaker and stronger again. It may seem to go away, but it always comes back. Because finally, it’s our Lord calling us to himself. It’s his call to life, to joy and to true peace. It’s a call to all of us.
Rev. Dennis Rhoads
Vacancy pastor. LCMS